The man behind the awards

After a twenty minute interview, I only had one more question to ask.

“So, who is Ted Zhu?”

He paused. “I don’t know if I could even answer that question.”

Senior Ted Zhu is a Walnut celebrity. From helping publish a research journal article to his early-acceptance into Harvard, Zhu has done it all. But even while earning a fandom , Zhu remains a school mystery.

“I think at some point, you realize  [college acceptances] are kind of the most important thing people think about for you, and no matter what, they don’t know that much about you. It sometimes bothers people too, like myself or my friends; it was a big thing for us to have the option to go to a place like that, but it doesn’t necessarily make all of us. It doesn’t define our personalities and our quirks,” Zhu said.

Zhu’s identity goes beyond academic excellence. He jokes with friends, rambles about sports and partakes in adventures. It’s almost like he’s a regular teenager.


“During our research internship(s) at Stanford, while being extremely interested about the different developments in the world of the medical sciences, we would also find time to just hang out and play frisbee or soccer. Once, we hung out for a day and then around midnight, we rode our bikes across campus and up a hiking trail just for the fun of it,” senior Jeffrey Zhang said.

Zhu, not only wins Science Olympiad medals like Harry Potter wins Quidditch matches, but also is the Editor-in-chief of The Hoofprint. His accomplishments in journalism include winning several high school journalism competitions, placing first in The New York Times summer reading contest, and convincing students and teachers alike that one plus one is greater than two (if you don’t get that reference, do yourself a favor and pick up the February 2013 issue of the hoofprint).

“He is inspiring because he is so multi-faceted, somewhat of a modern day Renaissance man. Ted not only excels in the sciences and humanities, but he also has an uncanny ability to lead and accomplish what seems impossible in a mere 24-hour-day. He achieves this through incredible work ethic, affable social skills and an open-minded attitude. He’s always willing to try new things, whether it be create a new musical instrument out of scrap, or go climb to the top of a mountain at midnight,” senior Brian Sonner said.

Zhu played tennis on the JV team for his first two years of high school. He was ranked first in doubles his freshman year, and second in singles his sophomore year. I used to hear about how “beast” he was at tennis (although, he insists that he wasn’t), and how he would jump over tennis nets without running.

“Sometimes I think he’s pretty hard on himself, but that’s part of what makes him so geared toward improvement. He’s a very methodical person. He probably doesn’t know this, but I used to really look to him for inspiration sometimes. He’s a role model for a lot of people,” Walnut High School class of 2014 alumna Jessica Wang said.

What separates Zhu from the archetypal genius is the impact he’s made on others. During an internship for the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Academy at the City of Hope, Zhu befriended individuals like USC freshman Vanessa Yu.

“The funny thing about Ted that you don’t truly realize when you first meet him, is that he has a ton of love. Love for science, love for family, love for friends, love for learning, love for helping others—he has so much love to give. Ted sacrifices himself for other people, putting himself in a vulnerable position for the sake of being someone who does something positive for others,” said Vanessa.

Zhu’s goals reflects Vanessa’s opinion. He aspires to become a figure like astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is well known for making science more mainstream. Much like Tyson, Zhu seeks to build a bridge between the general public and science, and would like to encourage the future youth to join the field.

“I see it in two ways, one is the science community is growing increasingly separate from the general public which I don’t think is a good thing necessarily. I think at our time, where our societal progress is really much underpinned by our technological progress, we need to be very much aware of what keeps our lives going, what keeps our society going and how that impacts our culture and our lives. So I think I want to join people to help bridge that gap, so people have a better understanding and also because while I think research is interesting, and I’ve done research before, I think if I were able to encourage ten more kids in the future to join science then I can magnify my impact by ten,” Zhu said.

Given Zhu’s ambition and intelligence, it’s easy to see how his character has been overshadowed by his accomplishments.

“I think people tend to forget that Ted is also a human being, someone who isn’t perfect, but who also can feel suffering and love,” Victoria Yu, a good friend of Zhu’s and current Arcadia high school junior, said.

Greatness can dehumanize someone like Zhu. It’s so easy to focus on the resume and forget there’s a person behind it. [A person who enjoys laughing and loving like everyone. Zhu is great, but more importantly, Zhu is human.]

“Ted is a nerd—yes, but being a nerd just means you are un-ironically, genuinely excited and passionate about something. Ted’s a science nerd, but he’s also a nerd about his friendships, his family, his goals for the future, and his genuine desire to help people. Ted’s the guy who’ll notice right away when something’s wrong, who’ll chat with you for hours and hours even if he has a test the next day, who’ll fawn and obsess over a girl like she’s the precious thing in the world,” Jason Li, another co-intern of Zhu’s and current Stanford freshman said.

Zhu isn’t just a living, breathing encyclopedia, or a Coca Cola Scholarship winner or the boy accepted into Harvard. He’s much more. Yet when you ask him, “who is Ted Zhu,” he struggles to find an answer.

“He’s the person who will inspire you to be a better person. So if you have the privilege and honor to call Ted Zhu one of your best friends, I hope you know how lucky you are. I know I do,” Li said.

No one else seems to struggle in answering that question.

By Shahar Syed, Opinion editor

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